Water School Draws Younger Generation Into Industry

Water School Draws Younger Generation Into Industry
The Water School began operating at Minarets High School in O'Neals, Calif., and then expanded to a site at Jenny Lind Elementary School in Valley Springs this past summer.

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Steve Christianson saw the need for younger folks to enter the water distribution and water treatment world. 

After receiving his certifications several years ago, Christianson began attending continuing education conferences and noticed a trend among them. “I kept seeing all these guys in the room that were old and gray like myself and thought that we need to get some fresh blood into this industry,” he says. 

Last February Christianson took the initiative to try and get younger people into the industry by starting The Water School — a school that offers a 13-month program that leads to certificates in water treatment and distribution. Students who then pass state licensing tests are eligible to seek water utility jobs. 

“I founded the school and started teaching students in February,” Christianson says. “I decided to go back to grad school at the age of 50, so I just completed a double MBA and this is pretty much what I focused on for my grad school projects.” 

The Water School began operating at Minarets High School in O'Neals, Calif., and then expanded to a site at Jenny Lind Elementary School in Valley Springs this past summer. 

“We’re tied in with two different school districts and we’re really working hard to develop a program to attract the youth,” Christianson says. “Unfortunately, they’re so unfocused at that age, it’s a very difficult thing. We envision getting a couple key juniors in each school district and putting them through a two-year program so that when they turn 18 they can test for T2-D2 certification through the state.” 

The state of California has five grades of education for water treatment and distribution, from T1-D1 up to T5-D5. The school only teaches through the second level and in 13 months students will go through a series of four different tests for the state. 

Current enrollment at the school is around 25 students, which is what the target was for the first year. “It’s great, we just got our results back from our first round of state testing and we were 11 for 11,” Christianson says. 

Among those enrolled at the Jenny Lind site are several Calaveras Unified School District employees responsible for operating water systems for the district. 

“We’ve gone in and filled a niche by training the district’s people in their maintenance department,” Christianson says. “A lot of these rural districts have a hard time retaining certified personnel and one of the things we’re doing is basically training districts we’re involved with in exchange for use of their facilities. Everybody wins.” 

Structured classes at the school are held once a week and are two hours long. Students are also given an option if they can’t make class to watch them online. “They get to view what happened in class and hear the lecture,” he says. 

Christianson, whose official title with the school is executive director, said after students complete their 13-month program there are several different options they can explore. 

“One of the things we’re going to do over the next year is expand into wastewater,” he says. “A lot of our students are hoping we can get that up and running by the time they complete their T2-D2 so they can enroll in that program right away. That will be a yearlong program, and we are on track.” 

Busy, busy, busy

It’s going to be a busy next year for Christianson and The Water School as it forms an alliance with the Coe Technical Center and its founder Tom Coe, giving the school nonprofit status. 

“We’re going to have representatives on our board from two different school districts, a couple municipal districts and the Coe Technology Center,” Christianson says. “The new nonprofit group is the California Learning Technology Center. The collaboration will allow us to leverage industry resources to both the water industry and educational side.”      

Another item that will keep Christianson busy is a unique water math program that will be a stand-alone program that will be marketed over the Internet to students nationwide. 

“We think it’s going to be a national program and we’re rolling it out very soon with options for one-on-one live online tutoring,” Christianson says. 

Christianson knows his water school will provide water treatment and distribution plants what they need. 

“We really are creating a very high-quality employee,” Christianson says.

“We are teaching four different state recognized courses, which really gives a well-rounded base of knowledge and then we also teach additional soft skills and we do things like CPR certifications, excel math and customer service.” 

Christianson envisions linking the school districts throughout California to The Water School and drawing in more students in the future. Several municipalities are also excited about the opportunity. 

“We were contacted about two weeks ago by the City of Stockton (Calif.) and their new Delta Water Treatment Plant in Lodi,” Christianson says. “It’s a total state-of-the-art, $250 million, 30 mgd plant. We had all of our students down there this week for a field trip and they are very excited about helping us develop some apprenticeships in that area. We’re getting unbelievable response.” 

For more on The Water School, visit www.water-school.com


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